Female pioneers in our field

Science is a man’s world. My field is not the most macho, but still it’s worth mentioning some unsung female pioneers. Working on our essay about simulation in social science, I learned about three I didn’t know before:

  • Klara von Neumann—coded the first simulation program, codenamed Monte Carlo. It was the second major project to run on the first programmable computer. It was the first program: to use function calls, to be loaded into the computer with the input data, to generate pseudorandom numbers. She had a famous husband, also working on the same project, but if it was a modern science project, she’d probably be the first author of a paper. Read more here. I guess programming ENIAC wasn’t like “import numpy as np” either.
  • Mary Tsingou—was a part of the Fermi-Pasta-Ulam project (like the above, a post-Manhattan-project project, kicking off the field of nonlinear science and a precursor of complex systems). According to this paper, she deserved more than being mentioned in the acknowledgment.
  • Helen Abbey—did the first computational epidemiology study as her Ph.D. thesis. It’s dated 1951 and was published ’52 as a journal paper. As far as I know, this is the first academic paper using computer simulations. (I’m not 100% sure—please tell me if you know some earlier.) It predates the Metropolis algorithm—often heralded as the birth of computational physics—by two years. I admire her advisor too, letting a Ph.D. student go on such a risky project.

I also have to mention another rather unsung heroine of mine I knew from before writing that essay

  • Miriam Kretzschmar—who as far as I know made the first computational network theory paper. I mean, in the sense that you study how a dynamic system depend on the network structure by generating networks with a tunable structure and then simulating the dynamic system on these networks. This is one of the most common methods of mine (and many other network theorists). Once again a little disclaimer about that paper being the first (please tell me if I’m wrong).

Honorable mention goes to my postdoc advisor Stephanie Forrest from whom I learned a lot (even though her pioneering scientific achievements are in a bit different direction than my research focus).

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